Formula 1 2019: Rising stars could be biggest threat to Hamilton

The 2019 Formula 1 season gets underway in Australia during March with a handful of drivers hoping to knock world champion Lewis Hamilton off his perch.

The latest Spin Sports odds say that the British star is favourite to win his third title in a row and sixth overall. The Mercedes driver made a patchy start last season with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel looking a big title threat, but Hamilton improved as the campaign progressed and ran out a comfortable winner.

The 24-year-old won 11 races and finished on the podium in six more to finish 88 points ahead of his German rival. Hamilton is now two just titles adrift of the world record of seven set by Michael Schumacher.

While pre-season testing times can often be misleading, Ferrari have impressed in Barcelona with their new car’s pace and reliability. However, they made a strong start last term before a combination of team errors, technical issues and a lack of focus from Vettel allowed Hamilton to cruise to the title.

Vettel, a four-time F1 champion, knows what it takes to be successful, but whether he retains the hunger to mount a sustained challenge to Hamilton is open to debate.

Red Bull’s move from away from Renault engines to Honda power units could improve Max Verstappen’s hopes of toppling the big two. With Daniel Ricciardo leaving Red Bull, the Dutchman is now the team’s undisputed number one driver and that should work to his advantage.

The only two other drivers besides Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen to win a Grand Prix in 2018 were Ricciardo and Raikkonen, but the latter duo have joined teams who are expected to pose less of a threat this season.

That could open the door for Vettel’s teammate, Charles Leclerc, to force his way into the reckoning for a place in the top three in the title race. The 21-year-old had 10 top-ten finishes with Sauber last season and he looks to have the talent to be a major star in the sport over the next few years.

With Vettel’s desire being called into question last season, Verstappen and Leclerc could easily emerge as the strongest challengers to Hamilton’s dominance this time around.

The British driver will be a popular pick with punters, but there is value to be had by backing either of the two young guns to secure a top three finish.